Aunty, There’s a bad word in the dictation

Day over day, I am surprised by children and their intelligence. Especially when working with the little ones, the ten year olds; I always walk in assuming they know a certain something and nothing more. And then they go out and surprise me.

The following happened today.

VSing, after correcting his partner’s dictation answers: Aunty, That’s a bad word in her dictation answers.

S: How can that be? We aren’t doing bad words here, are we?

VSing, moving closer and whispering his softest: Aunty, You asked us to spell ‘prone’. She’s written ‘porn’.

I do not remember when I first learnt that word, or when I truly understood the meaning of it. But, I am definitely sure it wasn’t in 5th grade, when I was ten.

It got us talking in the staff room about how children these days have too many sources for information, resulting in their innocence being snatched away earlier than normal. I can imagine a situation where this child read the word in a book that he was reading, or heard it in a movie/series that he was watching, and got curious about what it meant. A truly progressive family would have parents that are approachable enough for this child to ask them about it. In which case, he wouldn’t have associated the term ‘bad word’ with it. Which makes me think that the child resorted to other means of identifying the meaning of the word – the mighty dictionary, or better yet, a more knowledgeable sibling or friend.

And that second alternative worries me.

What worries me more is my acting casual about his observation, and moving on to the next ‘good’ word in the dictation. Should I have used that time to address the taboo associated with the word? But would it have been too early for these young minds? As teachers, we always talk about how the best time to give children sex education is when it comes up naturally in the class discussions. Was today one of those natural ways? Did I miss an opportunity to tell them about sex in the right way?

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Day 17: On stage embarrassments

The morning assembly was hosted by the student council and they conducted a quiz across all classes. It was done very beautifully and it was a great show of their leadership skills. It showed more than just that by the end of it.

The various rounds were themed on topics like Prakriya, Sports, Geography and GK. Each class had a question and received a point for each right answer. The teachers were one of the teams too. Each round progressed smoothly, and as I sat with my class, 5A, with 5B close by, we discussed and got a number of answers right. Bad move.

The last move was rapid fire and each team sent one on stage to answer a question within 20 seconds. The 5th graders named 5 rivers, the 6th graders named 6 states and so on, until it was the turn of the teachers. The organizers called for one teacher to go up on stage, and the notorious 5th graders start chanting ‘Swetha-aunty-Swetha-aunty’. I HAD to go up on stage because of all that overwhelming love, and trust in my abilities. And what’s the question? Name 10 presidents of India.

It was very ironic for me to get the question considering I’ve been dead against any form of rote learning. I fumble a little, fidget a little more, edge closer to the mic and say ‘Can I pass to another teacher, please?’

I slowly take my seat amongst the 5th graders, feeling very guilty of breaking their trust and a bunch of sweethearts go ‘It’s OK, aunty. You can’t know everything in the world anyway!’

We are doing something right with these children after all.

But aunty, we can’t hear the audio at all.

(Shoot! Damage control. Plays two videos in two YouTube windows: one with good audio and one with great visuals)

You’re a Rockstar, aunty. That was genius!

You need to do better in your written work, H.

Yes, aunty.

Do you promise to concentrate on it?

Yes, aunty.

Is that a pinkie promise?

Aunty, I’m in 5th grade. We are too old for pinkie promises.

Day 11: Teaching good

Lunch chats: Girls seem more interested in connecting with you as a person than boys. Not to say the boys don’t come around, but they definitely don’t seem to be as comfortable as the girls are. Pre-lunch conversations have been interesting, so far, and have helped me a great deal in connecting with the kids better. Between reading my tattoo, and complimenting the earring of the day, they’ve told me stories of how they pranked their English teacher last year, accepted that they wouldn’t do it with me and complained about the latest groups in class. They’ve crivved about the canteen food, and the short games periods. Through it all, the bundles of energy jumped around, never standing still, and not pausing even to catch a breath.

The girls from the chaotic 6th grade have been very empathetic. Every time they see me, they appease me, reminding me that their class wasn’t all that bad. They apologise for their classmates’ tantrums and promise to address the problem soon enough.

Structure much?: We’re doing comprehension questions and answers with the 5th graders in English and I’m very uncomfortable with some of the instructions given to the children. While I understand the level of conditioning that the RTE kids need, I’m surprised that other children are out through a similar structure too. Today, for questions that test reference to context, where they havr to identify who said a dialogue and to whom, and in what circumstance, the instructions where to phrase the answer so that they always go from who to whom to when. And to never mix them up. When I started dictation in 6, the kids reminded me that they shouldn’t be starting the words with a capital since it was dictation.

I’m taking them all with an open mind right now, hoping that somene thought through these instructions and their impact on the children. The last thing we need is to be creating another batch of mug-bots who’ve lost all their innate creativity.

Aunty, my best friend and I were talking about how you are a great teacher.

Me? But my classes are so chaotic that I’m not sure I’m any good.

No aunty, the chaos is because we all want to tell you something and that is a good thing.

Can we please switch seats today, aunty? The bus is anyway very empty.

If you can convince me with your reason to shift, I will let you.

Hmm. There is no reason at all. OK! I get it.

Day 8: Questions galore

While I was mentally prepared to answer tons of questions when working with ten year olds, I wasn’t quite aware of how much was ‘tons’ until I truly started with them. They’re at the age where speaking trumps listening. They also require personal attention, even if that means getting an answer to a question already answered. Moreover, they hate surprises. All that makes absolute theoretical sense until you’re flooded with the same question over and over again and after you’ve answered it for the fifth time in ten seconds, your face no longer holds the same bright smile.

I was very disappointed with myself for losing my cool today when the kids pestered me for a silly question, something that I was anyway going to get to, if only they’d all settle down.

That’s when I noticed another great quality in some of these kids. They immediately caught the change in my tone and the frustration from my face, and they quietly settled back in their seats. Some even pulled their friends back and agreed that we’ll wait for aunty to finish talking before asking questions. It was very impressive to see ten year olds cued in so deeply to human emotions already. Now who can be mad at these sweethearts for too long.

Mentor comments: I received my first batch of comments about my English class from my mentor. It was purely based on this chaotic 6th grade class that I spoke about. So I wasn’t sure with how big a spoon of salt to take them. She had no complaints about the content, or delivery, or the plan at all. The only comments she had were about my classroom management skills. She recommended that I stop answering to every child individually and stick to plan, because the 11 year olds would be full of questions and a little encouragement and their imagination would derail the whole class.

But isnt that what education should be doing anyway? I remember JK talking about children distracted by a lizard in the ceiling while the teacher was trying to stick to plan and teach something way off. Would the child really learn when he is mentally disengaged? And at this age, are they really capable of parking their alternative trains of thought, to pay attention to what you have planned?

Additionally, aren’t we priding in individualized teaching? Then how can we conduct a class without hearing every child out and without answering every single question?

I realize that her suggestion was based on past experiences and the known expectations of finishing a preset syllabus by the end of the year. I’m still working on wrapping my head around ideals and realities.

Aunty, please drink some water. We’ll try to not frustrate you today.

I’m trying to save some space in my stomach, aunty. My mother had made chicken burger at home today.

Day 141: 2017 Highs – PsychGoddess

It’s 2018. 2017 has gone by, and the cyberspace is overflowing with messages of positivism in the upcoming year, reviews of the year that went by and promises for the new year. Here’s my year in review but focused on the major highs and the lows.

PsychGoddess

This lady has definitely been the best find of 2017. We spent a week together in the summer, at Bhor, and it’s been a jolly ride ever since. As someone with a Doctorate in Psychology, with a post-doctoral work on autism and I was already floored. Some people have an innate tendency to not look their age, to make you feel at ease at get-go and to have abundant clarity in life. They also bring in the fun and the humor into any group, bonding with all evenly. The PsychGoddes had them all.

  • I understand and respect her clarity on the societal arrangement called marriage. Two people that like one another, can stand each other and respect each other, do not need a marital contract to spend their lives together. Marriage is not the beginning of the glorified happily-ever-after and the sooner we accept it, the less people will be stuck in this rut.
  • The way she’s raising her son is inspirational and is something I’m going to refer back to for a long time. Open communication, even with a ten year old, is an absolute must. It should start at that age for them to realize that their mother is in their corner for life. I still remember stories of their little arguments, writing reasons for being mad at each other I’m crumpled chit and throwing into the other’s room. Communication,  at its best!
  • Psych Goddess, the adopted mommy. My love for the dame grew millions when I heard her story of how she adopted her son. And then it grew a little more when I heard the story about how she told the little one about it. I’ve always felt strongly about adoption; there are too many abandoned souls looking for love and a life, too many to make any further procreation seem unjustified. But I’ve always wondered about the acceptance from the child’s end, would they ever think that we made a mistake by adopting them. The PsychGoddess made me realize a step to the answer: Open communication.
  • For someone like me that’s easily impressed, she’s taught me to wear the Black Hat every once in a while. Any awe or pleasure that one typically feels immediately after an event, a training or a lecture or a show, is purely because of the feel-good factor arising from the novelty of the experience. While it is a good thing to be happy about any new experience, and to enjoy it with an open mind, the stable mind will be grounded in reality. It will see through the tricks and the showmanship and will be able to spot the plot holes in the event. That’s a great power to have, something I’m going to consciously try this year.
  • The learning never ends and she’s taught me that from the first day we met. The quality of her reading, her academic proficiency and her quest for learning have all been impressive. Something to look up to and emulate.

The maanga-curry cookscapade, the rum and breezer  circles, her theatre games, the cuddle sessions with Scotch and the ramblings about everything under the sun will hold a special place in my heart. She’s introduced me to some brilliant people and some exciting new areas of learning and I’m looking forward to some more. She’s been an ardent reader of my rambles and the best PR in the world. What more can a girl want! Much love, PsychGoddess! 

Day 125: Valley and Flights 

Valley

A week and a half in the Valley School, and my mind was more rejuvenated than a long time. I had walked in with a conflicted heart and a dark cloud hanging over my head. But I also had an open mind and that brought in such experiences with it, that I was changed.

  • The most important standout from the experience was how interested people were in sharing their life. There was a willingness to open up and let another in, something that is becoming very difficult to find in the modern world. They wanted you to live their life, walk their path and see how life was.
  • The second highlight was the quality of conversation. Not once did anyone ask my why I hadn’t married yet, why I chose a career I didn’t like or who my newest boyfriend was. They knew that they all lived in glasshouses and any judgment sent out would return their way eventually. Instead, they spent their times talking about the life, the universe, meaning to life and things that mattered.
  • They were content in their lives and unmoved by the trivialities that come with modern affiliations. They did not have the newest fancy smart phone and so they did not spend their together-times staring into each other’s phones or wondering why the wifi speed was so poor. Something bigger mattered and they knew.
  • The relationship that the students shared with their teachers was inspirational. They called them uncles and aunts, hugged them around in class, and openly spoke to them about period pains and worries. There was a stark absence of fear for the role of the teacher. And teachers walked with a mindset that they were co-learners too. This made them awfully powerful, with a direct connect to young minds.
  • “Are you trying to kill us, uncle vipul? “, yelled a 6year old, as Vipul opened his laptop in class. Technology was a necessity and nothing more. It did not take up such a dominant part of their lives that they forgot to smell the rain, hear the birds, or be sensitive to each other.
  • A study center discussion that explored the difference between the mind and the brain sent me on an unknown path, one where I had no footing. I still felt comfortable enough to try out the discussions and I was stunned. Mind is what thinks not merely based on facts in front of us, but based on all past experiences, heartbreaks and successes. So, it automatically becomes a source for conflict. If we could think, but without all those added baggage, then imagine how powerful our brain would really be.
  • Another intriguing conversation was with Saqhib, where he shook my foundation about alternative schooling. By calling yourself alternative, you are automatically boxing yourself into a system, simply by trying to opposing to the mainstream. That invariably means there’s very little you can do differently, because you have a level of comparison in the form of another schooling system. What we should truly try is to be different in all forms, not bound by norms.
  • The highlight of the whole time was how ready the whole school, from the principal to every other teacher was, in inviting me to join their team. Very rarely do we see a case where an institute invites you to join in, only to learn from them, and contribute back. No resumes, no portfolios, no past experiences. Just an open mind.

Overall, I came back positive, both mentally and emotionally, ready to take on the next semester head on.

Flights

The flight out to Switzerland, the multipart journey, started off with a rocky start. Met H and HMan at the airport and the fissures were very evident. It is scary to think of how much one would change by simply being in close proximity with another all their life. We seek relationships to comfort us in times of need and despair. But what if those relationships are the reason for the despair?

The trip from Bangalore to Amsterdam to Geneva was hilarious, with the kids trailing around, completely distracted by the glitz and whatnot. It was kind of all too powerful, knowing the ways of traveling, especially international, while the others struggled reading boards and signs. I was constantly conflicted between helping them out and letting them be. I wouldn’t have enjoyed being told every step of the way. I see myself as the teacher that would let someone try for their own before I step in.

And so, I sat around and played the silent observer.

The flight in to Amsterdam brought a strange new companion to chat along. Punjabi was a good person to talk to, knowing when to not push it and when to bring in his views. We had a good talk about road tripping to Ladakh, about the power and the need to go on solo trips, and about Engineers becoming Management consultants. For a Punjabi living in Bangalore, he seemed aware of the differences in cultures and was filled with the desire to try life out.

For all the writing I wanted to do on the plane, it was a rested time, where I managed to get sufficient sleep. It also reinforced my principle that being nice brings it back to you. The airhostess was awfully nice, bringing me refills even when I didn’t ask for it. Punjabi enjoyed the benefits of my niceness too. The warmness felt evident when he invited me over to walk along to our next stop as well.

Pics4mSwiss: When you have a fond heart, hearts smile back at you from the sky. 

Day 10: Of case studies and chicken

Case studies

The department organized a very interesting discussion today on learner centered teaching using case studies. The professor that spoke about it has worked with agencies in the past and written case studies for academic usage. She did not seem to mind the frugal 3 students and 6 teachers in attendance or the fact that at least three of them were dozing at various times.

She impressed me with the way she carried herself, for extremely sure of her content and did not put up with bulls hit from the audience. Since she was currently teaching the management department students, all her examples and suggestions were from that stream.

For a few minutes, I sat there contemplating about how different life would have been if I had gone with that plan of pursuing an MBA. I stopped my application process with the 5 colleges that I applied to, because the essays helped me understand that my true interests lay outside the four walls of a conference room. I realized that money did not matter to be as much as contentment and satisfaction did. That I wasn’t capable of being the cut-throat bitch the job demanded, no matter how well I fit the bill now. And yet, sitting in this class, talking about marketing, strategy and Coca Cola’s case studies felt awfully familiar and nostalgic of sorts.

A common thread of question that was popping in my head through the session was who would own this in a classroom? No real world problem is dependent on a single stream or field of study. With the current scene of over worked and under paid teachers, wouldn’t a case about a problem that requires psychology, philosophy and technology solutions simply get pushed from one of the owning teachers to another? After all, this method of teaching requires extra involvement by the teacher if you think about it.

I seemed to impress the teacher with this question and she commented that this was the first time somebody asked her such a question in the years that she’d been training faculty in this method. That was definitely encouraging to continue to think laterally and willingly not conform.

Chicken

Let’s celebrate the little ego boost with good chicken, S. How about sending some over here for me?” Scotch 

Remember the last time I tried a similar tactic? 

By the power vested in me, I demand chicken